I am looking for verbs that can mean changing from good to better. "improve" can means changing from bad to less bad, so I am hesitant to use it.

For example, my presentation skills have been __ through my teaching assistant duties.

By the way, are there references that help with similar questions?


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    How do you feel about “refined”, “enhanced”, or “developed”? Also, you might consider writing it without “been” and see if it sounds like a stronger statement. Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


A very common metaphorical usage for OP's context is...

My presentation skills have been honed by my teaching assistant duties.

Hone, the verb, literally means to sharpen with a hone, a whetstone used to sharpen cutting tools. Use hone to describe someone working hard, perfecting or sharpening skills, as in "She is honing her skills as an actress by working in community theater."

  • I have thought about that. But I was wondering if it is too informal, because of the metaphorical usage?
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 18:56
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    @Tim: If you look at at some of these 2600 written instances of "skills have been honed", I think you'll agree many of them are quite formal contexts. Any "informality" in your context derives primarily from the fact that formal usage tends to avoid the implied "self-aggrandisement" (my skills were already good, but they became even better). But since you specifically want to make that point, you can at least console yourself by knowing that honed is better than, say, perfected. Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 19:12
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    @Tim: If you had already thought about that before asking the question, I wish you had mentioned it in the question. "What's a good word for 'improve'?" is a pretty straightforward question answerable with a good thesaurus. On the other hand, "Is 'hone' too metaphorical a word to use for 'improve' in a formal context?" is an interesting poser that would have garnered an immediate upvote from me. (The short answer is: "No, the word 'hone' is just fine in that context," but explaining why would be a challenging task.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 20:20
  • @Tim Until I read this answer, I had no idea that hone was a reference to an actual tool. I may or may not be in the minority among native speakers on that point, but I don't think the fact that it's derived from a physical action makes it more informal (for example, sharpened also comes from a physical action, but isn't overly informal because of it). I think honed is an excellent choice of word in this context. (+1!)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 0:09

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